Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Creedence at Cosmo's- Fogerty's roots and ambitions

As you hopefully know, Fantasy is doing a 40th anniversary celebration of Creedence Clearwater Revival's catalog. The bonus tracks and better sound are obvious bait for collectors but for anyone who doesn't have these amazing albums in their collection or if you're looking for a good present for a music nut in your life, look no further. There is one particular album of theirs that I've always had a soft spot for.

When I worked as a camp counselor back in the mid 80's, I'd occasionally subject the kids to my record collection through my true old cassette player. One thing that was never far was a copy of Creedence's 1970 album Cosmo's Factory, which was always my favorite album of theirs (and one of my all-time faves, period). The reaction from the kids was instructive. A pretty brat thought that it was goofy. An African-American kid dug their version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." When another kid who was a metal fan heard "Up Around the Bend," he said "Hey, Hanoi Rocks does that song too!" (remember, this was the mid 80's). And with that, I heard proof positive of the power of the record and how it connected to people, even lil ones.

What impressed me most about the record wasn't just the nice simple fact that it paraded a series of winning songs from start to finish but also what it said about leader John Fogerty. Not only was he cheering on his own roots and past with sterling covers of "Grapevine" but also also Bo Diddley, Roy Orbison and Arthur Crudup's "My Baby Left Me" (which you can bet that JF heard from Elvis' great cover of the song) but also coming up with a really impressive batch of originals himself. It wasn't just gorgeous tunes like "Lookin' Out My Back Door," "Who'll Stop the Rain" and "Long As I Can See the Light" but also a roaring song like "Up Around the Bend," a haunting, mysterious tune like "Run Through The Jungle" (which one-up's "Bad Moon Rising" in terms of spooky atmosphere) and the driving R&B of "Travelin' Band" with its horns and blistering guitar solos.

If that wasn't enough, Cosmo was also a way for Fogerty to show off his ambitions, especially on the long songs. At 11:07, "Grapevine" was about 4-5 times the length of a usual Creedence song, much less a cover. What made it so impressive is that it didn't lag for a minute at that length. Listen to the version on 1976's Chronicle compilation and if you've ever heard the original before that, you feel cheated right away, longing for the extra drum breaks, guitar solos and verses that are missing.

As if to prove that he could master longer-format songs, Fogerty started the record off with a seven-minute-plus title, which happens to be my favorite song on the album. "Ramble Tamble" starts out with a blazing fast guitar riff before blasting off with the rest of the band. Fogerty details his list of troubles: mortgage (timely now, right?), roaches, bugs, garbage. Lest you think that he's just speaking in metaphors, before he complains about a tummy ache... "They're selling independence/Actors in the white house" (again, prescient).

But then the song breaks down. The pace slows as the guitar wail and a keyboard seems to plunk out a sad theme (almost in the same vein as "Layla" from the same year). Soon, the pace picks up and it sounds like something you'd hear from a prog-rock group- not Yes or ELP but maybe Hawkwind at least. "Is this Creedence?" you start to wonder.

And Fogerty has the answer for that not long after. He stops the song again and takes it back tot he shit-kicin' first part. At first listening, you've gotta be wondering 'what the hell was that about?' but I think that Fogerty is making an important musical point here. Maybe it's just me extrapolating too much but I've always heard that transition in the song as his way of saying that even though rock can and will get fancier and ambitious (as in the song's second part), it'll still come back to its roots eventually (as in the third part of the song). As such, he's providing his own little musical history of rock and even more brilliantly, he's doing it without having to rue through an extended lyric about this. For all his thoughtful commentary about rock, I've never heard Pete Townshend do that so well in a Who song.

Looking back at the album, it's also a similar far-reaching statement about music. The fact that Fogerty wanted to lay out his roots and his experiments together in the same place was a testament not only to his genius but also a brilliant blueprint of the music's possibilities. He'd already been going down this path on Creedence's previous album (1969's Willy and The Poor Boys) and would reach a bit of an over-ambitious climax of it on Pendulum (which came out later in 1970) but Cosmo is where you can find his spirit in full bloom.


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